Latitude Festival 2010

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Lead photo by Paul Wesley Griggs, all others by Dan Smyth.

As far as I’m concerned, Latitude is one of the best festivals around. Now in its 5th year, and I in my 4th of attendance, it’s a brilliantly curated mix of both well established and cutting edge bands, as well as a fantastic mix of literature, poetry, and film. To its credit, it’s not like the non-music content is an afterthought either – it consistently boasts attractions that could have you happily avoiding any music all day! All this in the glorious surroundings of Henham Park, Suffolk; a glorious country estate centred around a willow-fringed lake with rambling woods and rolling pasture. You guessed it – I’m in love.

Latitude, like many festivals now, is heavily expanding its programme into the traditional “set-up” day of the weekend, Thursday. Opening the arena in the early evening, and providing a mixture of film accompanied by live orchestration, select spoken word poets – and a performance by Tom Jones. Unfortunately though, crowds were only treated to material from his most recent album, no hits, no nothing. Still, the small stage in the woods that held host to the spectacle was still packed out with bright eyed festival goers. No great loss.

Of course, things really got rolling on the Friday, with a fantastic early evening set from Mercury Prize Nominees Villagers in the Word Arena. Already lauded with critical acclaim for their debut album on Domino, Conor O’Brian and co flung a bewitching spell over a tragically small crowd. Lissie’s set soon after at the Sunrise Arena unfortunately paled in comparison to her brilliant set at The Great Escape where she was joined on stage by Ellie Goulding. Still, the effect of the buzz surrounding her debut release Catching A Tiger was clear to see in a packed-out arena. Now, we’re all familiar with daughters of rockstars – no one needs reminding how disappointing Peaches Geldof’s tits were once they eventually ended up on the internet – but with full credit to her, Coco Sumner (daughter of Sting, don’t you know) managed to escape most of those cliches. Still, dressed in short white hot-pants and sporting an eerily Kasabian-like stage presence, her music still failed to impress. Recent single ‘Ceasar’ got a fantastic response, and you can’t fault the girl for not throwing her all at the performance, but it’s still not quite enough to convince me that her music signed her, rather than her Daddy.

Over at the Obelisk Arena – the largest that Latitude has to offer – previous Faux cover star Laura Marling pulled off a spectacular set riddled with heartbreak. Frankly, if anyone needed any more convincing that Marling is a particularly bright star in the English music scene, then this was it. Following Marling, a pretty forgettable set from Empire Of The Sun brought home painfully that no matter how many strangely dressed dancers you throw at a stage-show, you need the material and performance to back it up with. Touring as only one half of the original duo, Luke Steele was pretty much the antitheses of Marling; lackluster levels of charisma, an uncharismatic brat on stage, and basically completely not up to the task. Luckily, the now surely-toured-to-death Florence Welch managed to bring a dramatic end to proceedings on the first day, although perhaps at times showing that – just maybe – she didn’t quite have the material to back up a full headline slot at such a large festival. Her voice is sounding tired, her material is in dire need of new company, but you can’t fault her enthusiasm.

Previous New Blood stars Chief rose out of the early afternoon haze with a set at the Word Arena, showcasing tracks from their forthcoming album on Domino, including recent single ‘Breaking Walls’. The real afternoon highlight though was a Q&A session with American Psycho, Less Than Zero, and most recently, Imperial Bedrooms, author Bret Easton Ellis. Emerging into a packed Literature Tent moaning about a cocaine-induced hangover, it was hard to tell if the author that arguably defined many people’s ideas of 80’s American upper-middle class youth culture was indeed playing out a caricature of himself for the waiting media and fans. Basically refusing to answer questions about his novels, he instead talked extensively about the nihilistic lifestyle of hopelessness and lack of happiness contained within material wealth that arguably define his two strongest characters, Clay of Less Than Zero and Patrick Bateman of American Psycho. Just to wrap things up before the evening’s real entertainment, Belle & Sebastian, Crystal Castles played a criminally short, typically egotistical set that saw Alice Glass storm off stage after a 15 (or so, probably) kid touched her tits when she dived into the front of the crowd. Seriously, what did you expect to happen?

Frankly, out of the three main stage headliners, there can be no argument that Belle & Sebastian were the most eagerly anticipated of the weekend. Conspicuous by their absence from the live circuit over the years since their last release The Life Pursuit, they arrived with the promise of both new material and a dredge through their formidable back catalogue. Stunning a packed Obelisk Arena with everything from (“this is one of our many songs about animals”) ‘I’m A Cuckoo’ to timeless classics like ‘Boy With The Arab Strap’, Stuart Murdoch and company proved inconclusively why they are still one of the UK’s most important bands. Closing off the night back at the Lake Stage were Transgressive Records signing Gaggle; a 22-person all-girl alt-choir headed up by the fearsomely named Coughlin (that’s her directing the other 21 members above). Dressed in full quasi-medieval costume and sporting banners, they chant over minimal beats, whipping themselves into a feminist frenzy. It’s pretty must-see stuff, and the perfect closer for the day.

Kicking off the music for me on Sunday were nu-folk scene champions Mumford & Sons. Although their debut album has never really enchanted me as much as fellow efforts from Laura Marling or Johnny Flynn, they drew a huge, mixed crowd to a gloriously sunny Obelisk Arena. Later in the afternoon, and in the blessed shade of the Sunrise Arena, the fantastic Morning Parade (pictured above) played a brilliant set to a crowd stuffed with tastemakers. In fact, you can download one of their tracks in their New Blood feature from last week. Lovely. Following things up on the Sunrise Arena, Darwin Deez danced, pranced, and generally gave the impression of being the happiest man alive. His debut album has emerged as one of the sounds of the summer, with singles ‘Radar Detector’ and ‘Up In The Clouds’ getting heavy radio play. He’s a brilliant performer to watch, a real treat each time I’ve seen him. Wrapping things up, Vampire Weekend performed a less than stunning set as the sun set on the Obelisk Arena. Hits such as ‘A-Punk’ and ‘California English’ went down smashingly, but the band seemed to drown under the deluge of pressure that comes with closing a festival such as Latitude. A rather downbeat end to a glorious weekend – sweltering sunshine, coloured sheep, and a smattering of sexual assaults. Standard.